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How Does Stress Affect Memory Loss in the Elderly?

By Ted Holmgren, 9:00 am on

Even though experiencing occasional stress is normal, it’s important for seniors to manage these feelings because their health can be affected in a variety of ways. In fact, many studies show stress can even damage the brain and affect a senior’s memory. The Chandler home care professionals at Home Care Assistance discuss a few of these findings.

Stress causes the body to produce increased levels of a hormone called cortisol, which helps us stay mentally and physically alert so we can manage a perceived threat. However, chronic stress leading to long-term increases in cortisol can have adverse effects on the body as well as the brain. Doctors and scientists have long been aware chronic stress can increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, digestive problems, decreased immune function, and psychological disorders. There has even been evidence that stress has an aging effect on the brain similar to how a constant flow of water eventually erodes a rock.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa provides compelling evidence that long-term exposure to elevated levels of cortisol specifically affects the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for short-term memory. The study looked at older rats with both naturally low and naturally high levels of a hormone equivalent to cortisol in humans. The rats were required to navigate a maze multiple times to retrieve a treat. Those with high levels of the hormone navigated the maze successfully 58 percent of the time compared to 80 percent of those with low levels of the hormones, and those with elevated hormone levels also had smaller and fewer brain synapses than the other groups studied.

Some experts believe chronic stress may also trigger or speed up the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Argentinean researchers found 72 percent of people with Alzheimer’s had experienced significant emotional stress within the two years prior to their diagnosis. According to Dr. Edgardo Reich, the lead researcher in the study, stress may not be a direct cause of dementia, but it can trigger degenerative processes in the brain that bring on the early symptoms of the disease.

Some seniors may be stressed because they don’t have the assistance they need to manage the activities of daily life. If your elderly loved one needs help in and around the house, reach out to Home Care Assistance. Our caregivers are available 24/7 to provide mental and social stimulation and assist with a wide array of everyday tasks. In addition to dementia and Alzheimer’s home care Chandler, AZ, seniors can rely on, we also offer specialized Parkinson’s and stroke care. For more information and to schedule a free in-home consultation with a qualified Care Manager, call 480.448.6215 today.